Introduction: Patellofemoral joint osteoarthritis (OA) is common and leads to pain and disability. However, current classification criteria do not distinguish between patellofemoral and tibiofemoral joint OA. The objective of this study was to provide empirical evidence of the clinical features of patellofemoral joint OA (PFJOA) and to explore the potential for making a confident clinical diagnosis in the community setting.
Methods: This was a population-based cross-sectional study of 745 adults aged ≥ 50 years with knee pain. Information on risk factors and clinical signs and symptoms was gathered by a self-complete questionnaire, and standardised clinical interview and examination. Three radiographic views of the knee were obtained (weight-bearing semi-flexed posteroanterior, supine skyline and lateral) and individuals were classified into four subsets (no radiographic OA, isolated PFJOA, isolated tibiofemoral joint OA, combined patellofemoral/tibiofemoral joint OA) according to two different cut-offs: 'any OA' and 'moderate to severe OA'. A series of binary logistic and multinomial regression functions were performed to compare the clinical features of each subset and their ability in combination to discriminate PFJOA from other subsets.
Results: Distinctive clinical features of moderate to severe isolated PFJOA included a history of dramatic swelling, valgus deformity, markedly reduced quadriceps strength, and pain on patellofemoral joint compression. Mild isolated PFJOA was barely distinguished from no radiographic OA (AUC 0.71, 95% CI 0.66, 0.76) with only difficulty descending stairs and coarse crepitus marginally informative over age, sex and body mass index. Other cardinal signs of knee OA - the presence of effusion, bony enlargement, reduced flexion range of movement, mediolateral instability and varus deformity - were indicators of tibiofemoral joint OA.
Conclusions: Early isolated PFJOA is clinically manifest in symptoms and self-reported functional limitation but has fewer clear clinical signs. More advanced disease is indicated by a small number of simple-to-assess signs and the relative absence of classic signs of knee OA, which are predominantly manifestations of tibiofemoral joint OA. Confident diagnosis of even more advanced PFJOA may be limited in the community setting.